Happy Mother’s Day!

Sigma snuggles one of her babies (Arizona Black Rattlesnakes).
Sigma snuggles one of her babies (Arizona Black Rattlesnakes).

Mother’s day is a much bigger deal than Father’s day. Why? Well, there’s just something extra special about mom (sorry Dad!). So, today’s post is about an under-appreciated group of moms (you guessed it), Arizona black rattlesnakes!

Human moms – you think you have it tough? Rattlesnake maternal duties may only last a couple weeks, but during that time they may have to protect their kids from extreme temperatures, a suite of predators, annoying (and deadly?) squirrels, and clumsy humans with cameras… By the time they give birth, mother rattlesnakes likely haven’t eaten in weeks or even months, but they wait another couple weeks to give full attention to their newborns. So here’s to you rattlesnake mommies!

We’ll start with the most famous of all, Cap Mama, who showed us what a typical day is like for a new rattlesnake family:

Cap Mama and her kiddos (Arizona Black Rattlesnakes)
What a beautiful family she has!
For an explanation of the behaviors seen in this video, check out A day in the life of a rattlesnake family.

Sigma may have been one of our smaller mothers, but what she lacked in size she made up for in bravery:

Check out the full story of Sigma’s squirrel battles here.

We’ve been lucky enough to see Woody and Alice with two different litters.

alice
Alice’s family, 2010
alice
Alice’s family, 2012

Woody’s family, 2012. You can watch more timelapse videos of Woody’s family here and here.

Babysitting!

Every mom needs a day off. So the lucky (or smart?) rattlesnakes that nest in groups help each other out with maternal duties. If one is still pregnant, and thus needs to be on the surface basking, she attend to the newborns while the new mother stays in cover for a well-deserved rest. Priscilla was the first rattlesnake we observed exhibiting this baby-sitting behavior.

You can read more about Priscilla and House in A rattlesnake helper?

Male rattlesnakes occasionally help out in this way too. Although we’ve never observed any active care or protective behavior from males, just the presence of a large rattlesnake may be enough to deter some predators.

Green Male (adult male) is the large black rattlesnake at the top of the image and the mother (Devil Tail) is the smaller, brown adult (mostly her tail and rattle are visible).

Sometimes the youngest (smallest) mom gets stuck with the surface duties of caring for the newborns. Eve was the smallest of the pair of snakes that nested at this site; we saw her often on the surface with way too many babies to have all been her own. The older (larger) female was rarely seen on the surface with the newborns.

Read more about Eve and some of the babies she cared for in Survivors, which discusses observations and mothers and babies after the initial care period.

Eve and family (Arizona black rattlesnakes)
Eve and family, plus probably a nestmate’s kids (Arizona Black Rattlesnakes), photographed by Jeff Smith.

This is the first Mother’s day in years that we haven’t spent at dens with our rattlesnake mothers-to-be. But, as of last week, two (Persephone and Luna) of our three Muleshoe rattlesnakes are still near their dens. While this is atypical rattlesnake behavior in general, it is characteristic of pregnant Arizona black rattlesnakes. So maybe we’ll have a couple more names to add to this list next year!